Interview: Amber Imrie-Situnayake by Danielle Schlunegger-Warner
It’ll Do Rd, August 3rd – 31st
Amber Imrie-Situnayake graduated from UC Berkeley in 2013 with a BA in Studio Art and was awarded ‘Excellence in Sculpture’. In 2014, she founded Venison Magazine, an online contemporary art magazine and in October of 2014, Amber accepted an art residency at NDSM Treehouse in Amsterdam, Holland In 2015, Amber continued to evolve her art by staying in Paonia, Colorado as an artist-in-residence at Elsewhere Studios. In August of that year, she also received a traveling artist grant from Fayetteville Underground for her exhibition, Buffalo. To top off her busy year, she also founded Camp Venison, an open source art professionalism residency based in California.
In Fall of 2016 Amber will begin her studies at Stanford University for her MFA.
Danielle Schlunegger-Warner grew up among the shell shops and sand dunes of Ventura, CA. Her artwork is strongly influenced by 18th century Cabinets of Curiosity and early explorers. Graduating with a BFA from California College of Arts in 2010 with distinction, Danielle received the All College Honors award for her work on The Marcus Kelli Collection and was awarded the 2014 Affiliate Artist Award From the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin, CA. Danielle currently and lives and works from her home studio in Portland, Oregon and writes remotely for Venison Magazine.
D: You speak about wanting to make your work accessible through using common materials like fabric and fiber. How would you define “accessible” and what about accessibility is so important to you? Why does it drive your work?
A: To be an ‘Artist’ is to be privileged. It’s a career of leisure, not of survival. While I may feel like I can’t live unless I am creating, the reality is I can not live without food and water, making art isn’t the easiest way to get food or water. I grew up poor. Being an artist wasn’t even in the list of prospective job professions. Homeschooled in rural Arkansas, I didn’t go to museums or art galleries and my idea of what art was… dated. Art was a part of history. Art didn’t have anything to do with my reality or my life. That was my understanding of it. I saw art, as something that was both physically and mentally inaccessible.
Being ‘out of the loop’ in a gallery has been an experience I think we can all can relate to. We went to a show, looked at the work and thought: “What the bleep is this about?!”
We stood there looking at an ugly or badly composed thing that was so saturated in insider information that it had completely lost its context in our wide culture. That’s just what most art is like for non-art world people.
My first contemporary art museum experience was when I was 20 and I fell in love with the installation works. I was able to enjoy them as an experience, outside of needing to know why they were made or what was their meaning. This experience of accessibility in art was something that stuck with me. So, I strive to have my work function on that continuum. I always want there to be some aspect that the average person can understand or enjoy about my work. While, there might be some art history references, deeper meanings, or political undertones, I don’t want the meaning to be all there is.
Fabrics and thread are common materials. They are ones I grew up using. Everyday we interact with fabric. It’s probably the most accessible and relate-able material. It also beckons to be touched, which lends itself well to interactive pieces for enticing engagement from people.
D: Many of your works have a “participation” aspect to them, why do you feel that is important? Do you consider participation part of accessibility?
A: Participation is a huge part of accessibility! You are welcoming people into the work, to create their own memories and experiences. Instead of seeing themselves outside the art, or other than, they see themselves as part of the artistic significance. I feel like, if art is about the human condition, about our culture and our lives, than it should involve humans, regular everyday, humans.
D: Let’s talk about your photographs. You have been working in fibers for a while, lots of embroidery, soft sculpture and large installations out of fibers, but in “It’ll do Road” you’ve started to incorporate photography and video. What led you to this project? What were you looking to document with your photographs that you couldn’t capture through fabric and thread alone?
A: I wanted to get more socio-political. I had been talking a lot about our contemporary relationship with nature and the domesticity of fabric. By re-imagining the natural world as this safe, soft environment I was speaking about our nostalgia to the outdoors of our youth, and to how we change our natural environment to make it more safe for us to interact with. After working heavily with those themes for about 2 years I wanted to dive into the vast differences between life in California and life in Arkansas.
So I wanted to go back, visit friends and family who lived in rural homesteads, I needed to reconnect with the authenticity of southern living, and the reality of living simply. The art world is so devoid of depicting impoverished or poor lifestyles. We seem it as this great shame on our culture, instead of just a reality. I wanted to capture that reality, and also capture it’s beauty.
So armed with my camera, I went back to Arkansas for 2 weeks, with many pre-arranged home visits. Everyone was informed why I was there, and gave me permission to document them, living.
Every photograph and moment was candid. And while some people would express shame about their messy kitchen or dirty dishes, I would explain to them about what I was trying to show and by and large they would open up to my lens. I think everyone, because of facebook, understands that a curated life can be harmful, and how much we, as people, look to see truths.
I had no idea what I was going to do with the photographs I took. I just knew I needed to document the culture. So I came home with over 350 photographs, many which evoked powerful feelings in myself. So I through a long process of feeling like the photographs weren’t connected to me, enough. I decided to print them onto fabric and see how it changed the digital quality and personability of them. That lead me to adding the threads.
D: Why are there threads extending from the photographs. Is this the unraveling of the image or a continuation of it?
A: My intention with documenting Arkansas rural culture was to bring these stories to the white-box conversation. So I printed these images on swatches of cotton fabric, common and everyday, then I placed them in these perfect little frames but made them cascade out and towards the floor. Breaking the mold which held them out of view. The threads are a continuation of the image, a physical representation for the digital-ity of their composition. They are causing a digital print to become a story which expands beyond the frame, outside the ‘simple’, beyond the edges of the camera’s lens. Life is complex, socio-economics are complex, and the people who I documented here are complex, made up of all these tiny strands.
If we don’t talk about rural culture and poverty in art, then we aren’t representing that reality, we are saying it’s not worthy of being art. I wanted to break through this, and make images that show this culture in its complexity. I feel like the threads spill out of the frame, like the words falling from a mouth and through that we start this conversation.
Thank you Danielle & Amber for your time and beautiful thoughts. We look forward to hearing more at the opening reception on Saturday, August 13th, 5-7pm.
Celebrate the opening of Amber Imrie-Situnayake’s show, It’ll Do Rd. on Saturday, August 13th, 5-7pm. Click here for more information on the opening!